“The thirst for video content is now shaping operator strategy” — Peter Boyland, Analyst, OpenSignal

OpenSignal, the globally-recognized mobile analytics company, measures the real-world experience of consumers on mobile networks as they go about their daily lives. Using cutting-edge crowdsourcing techniques and rigorous scientific analysis, OpenSignal has developed testing methodologies, which have been validated by operators, equipment makers and regulators around the world, to test consumer experience.

Recently in November 2018, OpenSignal brought out an India-specific report on the Mobile Network Experience. A quest to unravel the salient points of the report led VoicenData to have an interactive discussion with the report’s Lead Analyst, Peter Boyland. Excerpts of the interaction:

VoicenData: OpenSignal has recently released a report on India’s Mobile Network Experience 2018. In a nutshell, could you explain the report’s underlying intention?

Peter Boyland: India is a unique mobile market, in terms of sheer size, speed of development and competition. In November, OpenSignal published its latest report in a bespoke, first-of-its-kind format to allow us to dive into the level of analysis we think this unique market deserves. In this report, we introduced a new series of top-level award metrics for the first time, including analysis of mobile Video Experience. And these awards have been spread across the country’s big operators, with a few surprises.

The Indian mobile industry is currently emerging from a ferocious round of M&A, which will see four major national operators emerge.

VoicenData: In general, how does OpenSignal view the Indian telecom market?

Peter Boyland: The Indian mobile industry is currently emerging from a ferocious round of M&A, which will see four major national operators emerge. The country has huge potential, covering over 1.2 million square miles and home to over 1.3 billion people. A third of its population live in some of the world’s busiest cities, while huge rural areas still remain. India’s first LTE network launched in 2012, and in the country, we are now seeing some of the highest 4G Availability scores of any of the markets we analyze.

VoicenData: The report has analyzed Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea. What are the key findings of these operators’ position in the Indian telecom market?

Peter Boyland: Coined the world’s first “super-disruptor”, Jio started its operations barely two years ago and shook its rivals with its free data offerings. Jio is delivering on its mission to further enrich the lives of millions of Indians by further extending its 4G availability to nearly 97%, according to OpenSignal’s measurements.

However, its rivals continue to rise to the challenge. Airtel won OpenSignal’s Download Speed Experience award, which measures the combined speeds of operators’ 3G and 4G connections and the level of access to each technology. In fact, the operator now has a growth of over 25% in the 6 months to end-August to reach 7.5 Mbps in our measurements.

Meanwhile, the Indian mobile competitive landscape is set for further upheaval with the merger of Idea and Vodafone. The merged operator will be India’s largest in terms of subscriber share and the company’s combined customer bases, and network and infrastructure assets will undoubtedly make it a force to be reckoned with. 

The accelerated growth of 4G Availability is playing an immeasurable role not just in connecting the country, but in shaping the mobile habits of hundreds of millions of India’s mobile users.

VoicenData: How have these telecom majors capitalized on 4G?

Peter Boyland: Jio continues to impress in our 4G Availability analysis, as the operator’s score continues to grow from 96.4% to 96.7% — remarkable in a relatively new LTE market like India. The accelerated growth of 4G Availability is playing an immeasurable role not just in connecting the country, but in shaping the mobile habits of hundreds of millions of India’s mobile users.

Meanwhile, Airtel kept hold of our coveted Download Speed Experience award, which measures the combined speeds of operators’ 3G and 4G connections and the level of access to each technology.

In fact, the operator is going from strength to strength in Download Speed Experience with a growth of over 25% in the past 6 months to reach 7.5 Mbps in our measurements.

VoicenData: India has emerged as a market for increased data consumption. What is the model here and how is Jio being a dominant telecom player in data selling?

Peter Boyland: As India’s mobile networks get faster and more reliable, user habits are changing. Data consumption is rocketing, with a recent study showed Indians are spending more time watching videos online than on traditional TV channels. Jio says its users are consuming an average of 17.5 hours of mobile video per month, while Bollywood music channel T-Series looks set to knock PewDiePie off the top spot for most subscribers on YouTube.

We’re already seeing the operators begin to dabble into the world of content.

VoicenData: Can you comment on the ongoing price war among these telecom players?

Peter Boyland: The India mobile market has experienced unprecedented growth over the past decade. And fierce levels of competition and the cost of network rollout mean the aggressive race to the bottom on price is no longer sustainable. So, India’s mobile operators are now looking at new ways to differentiate themselves, and one of these is mobile content. We’re already seeing the operators begin to dabble into the world of content. E.g. Airtel recently began bundling in Netflix for higher-spending customers, while Jio is signing content deals with Viacom18 and ZEE.

VoicenData: With 5G making in-roads soon, how do you see the lead players’ participation in the spectrum purchase?

Peter Boyland: Despite initial 5G network launches in 2019, both 5G availability and the number of devices able to connect to 5G will remain limited. Mobile operators will use LTE to deliver a foundational blanket of mobile coverage alongside islands of high-speed 5G availability. However, operators will nonetheless invest in 5G spectrum, for fear of being left behind their rivals when the technology becomes ubiquitous in a few years’ time. 

VoicenData: Open Signal’s report has analyzed India’s video streaming demand. Can you share the key findings?

Peter Boyland: Our Video Experience metric analyzes how consumers experience video over mobile networks, accounting for load time, stalling rates during video playback and picture quality. In India, we saw a three-way tie in Video Experience between Airtel, Jio, and Vodafone.

The winners all scored around 39 points in our analysis (on a scale of 0-100), while Idea was very close behind the top three. These scores show there’s a lot of room for improvement in the Indian mobile video experience — and changing consumer habits are beginning to shape operator strategy.

As 4G network coverage and speeds improve, this will feed the thirst for mobile video, meaning customers will be happy to pay a little extra a month for access to their favorite Netflix shows and YouTube videos.

And this will be the key change we expect to see in the Indian mobile market in 2019. Rather than trying to win on price, operators will begin to bundle higher data allowances and content into their mobile plans. As 4G network coverage and speeds improve, this will feed the thirst for mobile video, meaning customers will be happy to pay a little extra a month for access to their favorite Netflix shows and YouTube videos.

Rather than trying to win on price, operators will begin to bundle higher data allowances and content into their mobile plans.

VoicenData: How do view the future telecom market in India?

OpenSignal’s key findings are as follows:

There was a three-way tie in our brand-new mobile video experience analysis, as Airtel, Jio and Vodafone all came within a point of each other. As India’s mobile networks get faster and faster, consumer habits are changing — and the thirst for video content is now shaping operator strategy.

Jio: Jio continues to impress in our 4G Availability analysis, as the operator’s score continues to grow from 96.4% to 96.7% — remarkable in a relatively new LTE market like India.

Jio also won our Latency Experience award, although it was Airtel who came top of our 4G-only latency table after edging ahead of Vodafone, who led in this category six months ago.

Airtel: Airtel kept its Download Speed Experience crown, surging further ahead with over 25% growth in our measurements in the past six months. Airtel has traditionally won the lion’s share of OpenSignal’s mobile experience awards, and the operator tied for our top spot in Video Experience and came in second place in our 4G Availability analysis.

Vodafone Idea: Idea won our new Upload Speed Experience category fairly comfortably, averaging speeds of 2.88 Mbps, while it won outright in upload in 10 of India’s regions and drew in a further six. The merger of Vodafone and Idea means India will be paired down to four operators once the companies combine operations. But there is still a lot of potential for growth in the market, and competition remains fierce as Jio continues to disrupt.

India’s operators should have more breathing space to focus on other ways to differentiate such as service quality and bundling, as opposed to a race to the bottom on price.

The price war subsides: Fierce levels of competition and free data offerings have led to unsustainable drops in mobile revenues and average revenue per users (ARPU) in India, and OpenSignal now expects operators to move towards the tiered paid data models familiar in the rest of the mobile world. As the price war begins to subside in this maturing market, India’s operators should have more breathing space to focus on other ways to differentiate such as service quality and bundling, as opposed to a race to the bottom on price.

Peter Boyland serves OpenSignal as an Analyst.  With more than 10 years of experience in the telco and TMT sector, he is best known for writing country level and global reports and blogs on 3G and 4G network consumer experience, focused on India and Europe. 

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